Advice to My Teen Daughter on Finding Her Personal Style
“Personality begins where comparison ends.” -Karl Lagerfeld
I wish I could stop talking about this, but I think about it all of the time and it crowds out the other thoughts in my head. My daughter, Cal, leaves for college in three short years, which makes me an empty nester at 36. Both of those truths alarm me in different ways. I feel so proud that we’ve gotten this far, but I feel a deep sense of loss already. Now that she’s 14, I’m getting to know her as an independent young adult rather than a helpless child, and I like her. A lot. She is so different from me in every way. She teaches me about life because her fresh perspective makes me feel like I’m looking at everything for the first time.
I can’t decide if I’m relieved that my daughter is different or if I’m just the tiniest bit perplexed. I mean, her body is essentially formed from my body, so we should be carbon copies of each other. Or is that not how biology works?
Our personal styles seem to be an outward manifestation of our inner distinctions. A few weeks ago, Cal made this very clear when we were discussing a trip to the mall to buy new summer clothes. I started to ask if she’d like to browse the stores that I frequent but changed my mind. My favorite stores were probably too boring because I consider my personal style to be modest and I rarely accessorize.
The most accurate description of her facial expression would be “horrified.” “No, mommy, you don’t dress conservatively,” she said and then pointed at herself. “I dress conservatively. The only way you could be less conservative is by wearing a corset in public.”
“Oh. Does Halloween count?”
Cal reminded me that the emails I receive from my favorite retailers include subject lines like “Show some skin” and “Calling all party girls.” She claimed that my mostly black attire and delicate jewelry did not make me modest. Rather, her preference for crewnecks over low cut v-necks and her habit of buttoning all the way to the top when she wore polo shirts—those were the telltale signs of a conservative dresser.
Hmm. I see.
We assume certain things about ourselves to be true and then we never think twice about it afterwards. I don’t know why I’m so nervous about my daughter living apart from us. If she can survive an entire childhood with me as her mother, the rest of her life should be a breeze.
Cal is excited about branching out and creating a more sophisticated personal style. Her attitude reminds me of the enthusiasm I had at her age when I stopped wearing animal-print sweaters and bought my first flannel shirt. Grunge was trendy, and I wanted to fit in. Later on, when clogs were the rage, I bought a pair even though I never mastered walking in them, and I still have several faint scars on my legs from tumbles off the curb or into brambles.
My style is still evolving (much to the relief of my daughter), but after spending years and many, many dollars on fashion that didn’t suit me, the one belief I want to instill in Cal is that it’s okay to be exactly who she is. No edits required. And because it’s almost never our personality that people see first, I want her to feel comfortable about expressing the inner Cal. Her style should be effortless and a statement about who she is rather than who she thinks she has to be.
I have almost every picture from 1993 to 1997 safely tucked away in a corner. A very hard-to-reach corner. Those family albums chronicle a series of fashion no-nos. The younger me looks happy as I hold the same pose in almost every picture: hands on my hips, turned at a 45-degree angle, wide smile on my face. I apparently thought I looked extra fine in my paisley polyester rompers and velvet chokers with a dangly cross. As much as those pictures make me cringe, I’m grateful that I got a chance to explore every wrong choice because, by process of elimination, I finally understood what I liked and what actually flattered my form.
I look forward to watching Cal’s personal style journey. If she doesn’t remember anything else from my extremely long and rambly Mother-Daughter Talks when she sets off on her own, I hope that she at least remembers this: You can rock anything as long as you do it confidently. And I’m not just talking about fashion.Published May 15, 2014. Last updated May 20, 2014.